Facebook employees say content rules aren't always enforced for Breitbart and other right-wing publishers for fear of public blowback, internal documents show
Employees allege content rules aren’t enforced for Breitbart and other right-wing publishers for fear of public blowback, and management expresses wariness of appearing biased, according to internal documents. In response, Facebook says it enforces its rules equally and doesn’t consider politics in its decisions.
%Note: Audience size is based on Facebook internal metric VPV, or Viewport Views, which measures how many times content is seen by users.Source: Internal document titled, ‘Sparing Sharing + Informed Engagement Removal Political Ideology Analysis’The study was designed to prepare Facebook for any fallout that might come from stopping the two initiatives, including accusations of bias, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter. “We could face significant backlash for having ‘experimented’ with distribution at the expense of conservative publishers,” one of the researchers wrote in an internal memo.
The company stopped the Informed Engagement program but kept Sparing Sharing.Mr. Kaplan ordered more studies analyzing how enforcement efforts were implemented for different ideologies as Facebook increasingly faced the charge that it was suppressing conservative voices, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
“It is not news to us that Facebook has effectively suppressed our content,” the Breitbart spokeswoman said. “Still, we’ve been crushing our establishment news competitors in engagement for years, so imagine what would happen if Facebook treated Breitbart equally with other top news publishers.” headtopics.com
List of examplesIn 2020, a Facebook engineer gathered up a list of examples he said were evidence that Facebook routinely declines to enforce its own content moderation rules for big far-right publishers like Breitbart, Charlie Kirk, PragerU and Diamond and Silk, according to the documents.
The controversy had escalated in July 2020, when Mr. Trump tweeted a Breitbart video claiming “you don’t need a mask” against Covid-19 and there was a cure for it that included the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. The video, which featured a live news conference, was seen millions of times before Breitbart and social-media platforms including Facebook took it down.
According to Facebook’s fact-checking rules, pages can be punished if they acquire too many “strikes”—meaning they published content deemed false by third-party fact-checkers. It requires two strikes within 90 days to be deemed a “repeat offender,” which can result in a user being suspended from posting content. More strikes can lead to reductions in distribution and advertising revenue.
In a town hall, Mr. Zuckerberg said Breitbart wasn’t punished for the video because that was its only infraction in a 90-day period, according to internal chats describing the meeting.According to the engineer’s list of examples, the content producers were “managed partners,” part of a program in which Facebook assigns internal handlers to prominent users. A side benefit for these users, the engineer alleged, was that their liaison at Facebook helped them avoid punishment over fact-checking strikes, according to the documents. headtopics.com
A strike would be escalated for review by senior Facebook executives, including the policy and public-relations teams, who would consider whether to overturn the punishment.A Facebook spokesman said such inquiries come from entities on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as mainstream news organizations.
In an internal memo, the engineer said he based his assessment in part on a queue of three dozen escalations that he had stumbled onto, the vast majority of which were on behalf of conservative content producers. A summary of the engineer’s findings was posted to an internal message board.
Social-media influencers Lynnette ‘Diamond’ Hardaway, center, and Rochelle ‘Silk’ Richardson, right, spoke with Mr. Trump at a rally in March 2020.Photo:Al Drago/Bloomberg NewsIn one case he cited regarding pro-Trump influencers Diamond and Silk, third-party fact-checkers rated as “false” a post on their page that said, “How the hell is allocating 25 million dollars in order to give a raised [sic] to house members, that don’t give a damn about Americans, going to help stimulate America’s economy?” When fact-checkers had rated that post “false,” a Facebook staffer involved in the partner program argued there should be no punishment, noting the publisher “has not hesitated going public about their concerns around alleged [anti-]conservative bias on Facebook.”
Diamond and Silk was able to lobby the third-party fact checker to change the rating down to “Partly False” and, with the help of the managed partner escalation process, all its strikes were removed, according to the posted summary and escalation documents. headtopics.com
BuzzFeed previously reported on the memosummarizing the engineer’s examples.A Facebook spokesman said that the employee who flagged Diamond and Silk’s willingness to complain about bias was just gathering information to pass up to decision makers, not arguing what to do about the incident.
The chat conversations the Journal reviewed show that inside the company, Facebook employees demanded that higher-ups explain the allegations.“We are apparently providing hate-speech-policy-consulting and consequence-mitigation services to select partners,” wrote one. “Leadership is scared of being accused of bias,” wrote another.
Facebook executives dropped into the chat to explain fact-checking policies and how the managed partner program worked but didn’t address the questions about bias, according to the chat records.—Design by Andrew Levinson. A color filter has been used on photos.
The Facebook Files Read more: The Wall Street Journal »
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